Two weeks ago, son #4, the one who falls on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, started college.
For me, it was the fourth time I dropped a boy off at a faraway campus with vague promises of care packages and a reminder to buy a bus ticket for fall break.
For my three older boys, who had spent weeks away at Boy Scout camps year after year, this exercise was not especially daunting.
For son #4, though, this marked the first time he would be left entirely on his own for weeks at a time.
His immediate future, vague promises of care packages notwithstanding, would be void of family and friends, familiar teachers, landscapes and routines.
I had every reason to expect the days between move-in and mid-October would be filled with anxiety and loneliness.
Two weeks in, I am happy to report I was wrong…for the most part.
As part of his college’s outstanding support program, my son and his seven similarly diagnosed peers, were invited to spend a week on campus in July just to get the lay of the land and, more importantly, bond.
At first, my son balked. When pressed, he explained that the highly structured agenda the program coordinator had sent showed only small windows of “alone time” during the five days he’d be away. Pointing specifically to the after dinner activities, he fretted, “I don’t know about these. You know how I like to get to bed early.”
At his request, I asked the program coordinator if the evening events were mandatory. Her response? “All of the evening activities are optional. We hope he participates in as many as he feels comfortable doing so.”
My son’s mood brightened. He knew she understood. “This might work,” he ventured.
After weeks of gushing about how much fun he would have, my husband and I helped him pack and even let him drive most of the way to campus.
Once settled in his room, we joined the rest of the parents and students in the residence hall’s common area. The program coordinator introduced the two residence assistants (RAs) who would be staying there with her and the kids, let us know what time to return that Friday and told us to say our good-byes.
Slapping on the happiest face I could muster, I gave him a quick kiss and said, “Be good. See you in a couple of days.”
I walked out the door and couldn’t bear to turn around. The entire way home, I expected my cell phone to ring with a tearful voice on the other end, begging us to come back.
But it didn’t. Not until we got home. I answered and held my breath.
Son: Hey, so I just wanted to see if you guys were doing OK.
Me: (sounding perkier than a cheerleader on steroids) Heck yeah. We’re fine! What are you up to?
Son: Oh. OK, good. Well, uh, we just had dinner and now we’re heading out to see a concert in a park near here, so I’m sorry, but I kind of have to go.
Relieved, I hung up the phone, trying to ignore just how empty the house felt without him in it.
Similar upbeat calls followed each night for the remainder of the week, during which time I sent the program coordinator a message expressing my intent to submit her name to the Vatican as a candidate for canonization.
So, getting back to my story. My “Aspie” is just about two weeks into his college adventure. To date, he likes all of his classes, has re-connected with all of his cohort pals and has even made some new ones. Every day starts with a wake up call from yours truly (his request) and a pre-bedtime call from him, telling us about his day (my request).
While these calls may taper off over time, for now, I find they go along way towards easing the anxiety and loneliness. Not his. Mine.